John Gower ‘The Lover’s Confession’

John Gower was an impressive figure who wrote in Anglo-Norman French, Latin and English. I think it was only Milton who could compare with him in terms of multilingual proficiency. The Lover’s Confession or Confessio Amantis is a long poem in which the Lover confesses his sins to Genius, who is however no ordinary priest but the priest of Venus. Genius tells the Lover various stories by way of moral teaching, one of which, selected for the NAEL,  is the story of Procne, Philomela and Tereus. The story is generally well-known (or easily googlable), so I will try to avoid summarizing. I must say Gower’s couplets with short lines (usually eight-syllable) come across nowadays as a bit of doggerel, which is a bit disconcerting when compared with the gruesome contents of the verse. On the other hand, I think he does try to convey Philomela’s terror and trauma, describing the rape from her point of view, and that is an improvement in my mind in comparison with “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”, where the rape comes across almost as a misdemeanour. Although a modern reader could wish less dwelling on the fact that Philomela was a virgin, as if raping non-virgins were somewhat more forgivable. The fragment I read today ends when Philomela unwisely declares that she is going to tell everybody about what Tereus has done. Don’t expect any light-hearted matter in the following posts.

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