“Moral” Gower’s Interpretation of ‘Apollonius of Tyre’ in his Confessio Amantis



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Moral” Gower’s Interpretation of ‘Apollonius of Tyre’ in his Confessio Amantis
(N.B., Texts referred to are marked A. for G.C., Macauley, ed. 3rd ed. The English Works of John Gower: Volume 1. London: Oxford UP, 1969. B. for Morley, Henry, ed. Tales of the Seven Deadly Sins: Being the Confessio Amantis of John Gower. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1889. C. for B.P., Reardon, ed. Collected Ancient Greek Novels. Berkeley: California UP, 1989.)

1. General

Chaucer’s dedication to Gower in Troilus and Cressida, a description which serves to characterize Gower’s moral and moralizing stance in story-telling:


“O morall Gower, this book I direct

To thee and the philosophicall Strode,

To vouchen safe there need is to correct,

Of your begnites and zeles good.”

(B.p.xiv.)
Regarding Gower’s form of writing:
‘In the Confessio Amantis Gower, of course, so chose his connecting matter that he might bring his tales into distinct groups, with each group armed for battle against one of the Seven Deadly Sins.’ (B.p. xvii,)
Regarding Gower’s relation to Chaucer:
‘Gower’s English poem, the Confessio Amantis, was, like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a device for the stringing of a large number of stories upon some slender thread of narrative that should run through them all, in the way that had been made popular by the great recent success of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Gower probably had written much of the Confessio Amantis before Chaucer planned his Canterbury Tales. Both poets worked sometimes on the same material; while, now and then, Gower seems to have inspired Chaucer with a desire to tell again one of his friend’s good stories.’ (B.p.xv.)
Regarding Gower’s self perception of his motives for writing:
‘He was vigorous with calm invective for use in homliest plain speaking. “I do not,” he said, “affect to touch the stars, or write the wonders of the poles; but rather, with the common human voice that is lamenting in this land. I write the ills I see. God knows, my wish is to be useful; that is the prayer that directs my labour.”’ (B.p.xv.)
M.J.Huxtable, 2001
A criticism of the whole scheme of the Confessio Amantis:
‘The scheme itself, with its conception of a Confessor who as a priest has to expound a system of morality, while as a devotee of views he is concerned only with the affairs of Love, can hardly be called altogether a consistent or happy one. The application of morality to matters of love and of love to matters of morality is very often forced, though it may sometimes be amusing in its gravity.’ (A. xix.)
A criticism of Gower’s version of Apollonius of Tyre in particular:
‘Almost the only story in which the interest really flags is the longest, the tale of Apollonius of Tyre, which fills up so much of the eighth book and was taken as the basis of the plot of Pericles; and this was in its original form so loose and rambling a series of incidents, that hardly any skill could have completely redeemed it.’ (A.p.xii.)

2. The Context of Gower’s Version of Apollonius of Tyre


  1. Gower arrives at the story of Apollonius in Book VIII of his Confessio Amantis via an account of the Laws of Marriage as entailed by Scripture. As such he makes the story rest upon a moral proposition that Man, since the time of Abraham and Jacob, is forbidden marriage in the third degree, (i.e., cousins and closer relations). His use of the Apollonius story is thus to serve a religious and moral purpose:

‘…There bet yet upon loves rage / Ful many of suche now a day, / That taken where the take may. / For love, whiche is unbesein / Of alle reson, a man sain, / Through sotie and through nicete / Of his volupuosite / He spareth no condicion / Of kin ne yet religion.’ (B.p.409)




  1. Gower drives forward his moral case for telling the story of Apollonius by citing various historical cases of incest; Caligula, Amon and Lot. Again his interest in them is to condemn the practice of forbidden love:

‘For though it thenke a man first swete, / He shall well felen atte laste, / That is source and may nought laste, / For as a morcel envenimed, / So hath such love his lust mistimed, / And great ensamples many one / A man may finde thereupon.’ (B.p.409)



3. Specific

(Some of “Moral” Gower’s deviations from the original text of



Apollonius of Tyre, with comment on how they serve the purpose of
M.J.Huxtable, 2001
moral instruction.)



  1. Gower emphasizes the ‘wilde’ and ‘fallen’ nature of Antiochus, who, having lost his queen, succumbs to base instinct in ‘devouring his owne flessh’.

‘But whan a man hath welth at wille / The flesshe is frele and falleth ofte, […] The wilde fader thus devoureth / His owne flesshe, which none socoureth, / And that was cause of mochel care.’ (B.p.410)




  1. Gower keeps to the original text’s portrayal of the daughter’s horror at what happens, (‘…just now, in this bedroom, two noble reputations perished.’ C.p.739, sect.2.), which is lost in Pericles, but also keeps to the eventual destruction of them both by lightning. This contrast between the daughter as victim, and yet jointly culpable as far as divine justice goes, is morally ambiguous. Perhaps Gower forgot to adapt the ‘judgement’ to fit his previous sensitivity:

‘And netheles mercy she praide / With weping eye and thus she saide: / “Helas, mu suster, wailoway, / That ever I sigh this ilke day. / My worldes worship is berefte.” With that she swouneth now and efte / And ever wissheth after deth, / So that welnigh her lacketh breth.’ (B.p.410)




  1. Gower is at pains in Book VIII to show the difference between good and bad love. With Antiochus playing the part of the ‘bad’ response to love, Apollonius is obliged to fit the mould of a ‘good’ response to it. Apollonius’s courtship of Artestrate’s daughter in Pentopolim provides an opportunity for this:




  1. In the original, the girl’s playing and singing are met with silence from Apol., which is interpreted as rudeness by the king. (C. p.747, sect.16.) Apol. then goes on to show his genteelness by playing and singing much better; like an angel in fact. In Gower, only this apparent lack of appreciation for the efforts of the girl and its subsequent attention is removed, allowing Apol. to avoid any possible shadow of unchivalrous conduct, (his ability being a mark of his ‘good blood’ is kept):

‘ ‘Madame, certes well,’ he saide, / ‘But if ye the mesure plaide / Which, if you list, I shall you lere, / It were a glad thing for to here.’’ (B.p.416)


M.J.Huxtable, 2001


  1. Gower emphasizes Artestrate’s pleasure in his daughter’s choice of Apollonius as beloved by showing him compared against his queen’s dismay of Apol’s. suitability. This carries into Pericles and the sympathetic portrayal of Simonedes. (The way this contrasts with Antiochus’s unfair treatment of suitors after his daughter is an obvious treatment of the good love/bad love theme.)

‘For he woll have her good assent, / Hath for the quene her moder sent. / The quene is come, and whan she herde / Of this matere how that it ferde, / She sigh debate she sigh disese….’ (B.p.418)




  1. In Gower’s version, Apollonius receives the offer of Artestrate’s daughter in marriage with thanks and a good heart, as opposed to the original in which he says, ‘As God wills, so be it; and if it is your wish, let it be fulfilled.’(C.p.750). This, perhaps, was a way for Gower to stress the ‘goodness’ of Apollonius’s form of love, that might have been damaged by the rather lackadaisical attitude of the original hero. (Who came to love his bride after their marriage.)

‘And he his kne to grounde bente / And thonketh him and her also. / And er they wenten than a two / With good herte and with good corage / Of full love and full mariage..’ (B.p.418)




  1. Gower de-emphasizes the role of Cerimon’s apprentice who, in the original, is the one who discovers that Apollonius’s wife is not dead and revives her – and delights not so much in her recovery as in his skill and in getting one over his teacher (C. p.754 sect.27.). Perhaps this was done to clarify a moral position that God protects the faithful using good people like Cerimon; the competitive streak in the original being a distraction. Note also the minimizing of the elaborate medical detail of the original, perhaps to allow for a more supernatural tinge to colour the reanimation of the ‘dead’ woman.

‘As he that knewe what was to done, / This noble clerk with alle haste / Began the veines for to taste / And sigh her age was of youthe; / And with the craftes which he couthe / He sought and found a signe of life…’ (B.p.421)




  1. Gower completely does away with much of the character of Athenagoras, the lord of Mytilene who eventually marries Thaise, daughter of Apollonius (Marina in Pericles.) In terms of the piece as moral instruction, it is easy to see why. In the original, Athenagoras bids against Leones the brothel keeper at the slave market for Thaise, fails, but decides to be first in the queue to have

  2. her at the brothel instead. He is then the first to be morally awakened by her virtuous words. (C.p.759-60) For Gower, perhaps this placed too much of a stain on the character of the prospective partner of the chaste girl, so he omitted it. The moral lines of the story are clarified by dropping the unacceptable figure of a brothel-frequenting portrayal of Athenagoras. Instead, in the Confessio Amantis, we meet him only when Apollonius arrives in Mytilene, such that he arranges for Thaise to cheer up the morose visitor:

‘The lord which of that cite was, / Whose name is Athenagoras, / Was there and said, he wolde se / What it is, and who they be / That ben therin.’ (B.p.426)




  1. Gower consummates his comparison of good and bad loves through his emphasis of the joyous reunion of Apollonius and his wife in the temple of Diane in Ephesus. In the original she simply runs into his arms on realizing who he is, whilst the delight is mainly felt through the excitement of the townsfolk. (C.p.770 sect.49) Gower explicitly states, however, that theirs was a more physical and loving reunion (perhaps this bears a relation to his views on kingship as aimed toward Richard II in Bk.VII.):

‘The king with that knewe her anone / And toke her in his arme and kist, / […] But never man such joie made / As doth the king which hath his wife. (B.p.429)




  1. “Moral” Gower is at work in the account of Stranguilo and Dionises’ treachery and eventual execution. In the original a passage maintains that Dionise was fully responsible for the plan to murder Thaisa, whilst Stranguilo, on hearing of the plot sought to distance himself from his wife’s evil – ‘I must mourn an innocent girl, and myself for being married to a deceitful woman who is a wicked, poisonous snake.’ (C.p.758 sect.32) Interestingly, something of this is, however, found in Pericles, when Shakespeare has Cleon say, ‘To such proceeding / Who ever but his approbation added, / Though not his prime consent, he did not flow / From honourable sources.’ (Pericles:4.3.26) Gower’s version drops all mention of Stranguilo’s conscience, perhaps simply to keep the moral lines clear for the ‘justness’ of their eventual joint execution:

‘This false man Strangulio / And Dionise his wife also…’ (B.p.425) and,



‘He telleth hem the violence, / Which the tretour Strangulio / And Dionise him hadde do / Touchende his doughter, as ye herde […] Atteint they were by the lawe / And demed for to honge and drawe […] And every man hath great merveile, / Which herde tellen of this chaunce, / And thonketh G?oddes purveaunce, / Which doth mercy forth with justice.’ (B.p.430)
4. Conclusion
The aftermath of Gower’s re-telling of Apollonius of Tyre brings us back to dialogue between Gower and the priest of Venus, who tells the moral of the tale. This then is that good brings happiness and prosperity despite trials, whereas forbidden love pays only destruction:
‘Lo thus, my sone, might thou lere, / What is to love in good manere, / And what to love in otherwise…’ (B.p.431)
With Gower’s emphasis throughout on approving the lawful and disapproving the forbidden in love, it is easy to see that Chaucer’s description of “Moral” Gower was both accurate and warmly meant. The clear moral purpose of Gower’s version of Apollonius also serves to show that Chaucer’s complaint, through the mouth of the Man of Law in The Canterbury Tales, must have been meant humorously, and not, as some have maintained, as a critical assault:
‘Of swiche cursed stories I sey fy! – / Or ellis of Tyro Apollonius, / How that cursed kyng Antiochus / Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede, / That is so horrible a tale for to rede, / Whan he hir threw upon the pavement.’ (P.88 lines 80-84, Larry D. Benson, ed. The Riverside Chaucer 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1988.)
M.J.Huxtable, 2001








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