week 6: Confessio Amantis - the framework

week 6: Confessio Amantis - the framework

Number of replies: 17

At this stage, I would like to ask you just for brief initial impressions concerning the combination of the "commentary on the state of the world" in the Prologue and the traditional dream vision frame opening. How do they fit together?

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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Valeriia Kliuieva -
The prologue of the poem is concerned with the declining of the society that once was so perfect:
"If I shall summon to my mind
Those olden days, then I shall find
How all the world was full of wealth"
It does not only describe the very flawless world, but also a significant part of it is dedicated to the God, praising him in every possible manner.
Love is mentioned in the prologue:
"May He cure all the ills and smarts
That trouble full and faithful hearts,
And bring Love back to us again", and Love (with the capital L) is the theme of the following part of the "Confessio Amantis".
Introduction develops these thoughts on Love and tells the reader of its importance, compares Love to a decease, says Love is blind etc., but it is still very significant, and it is a further subject of the poem.
So the introduction presents the reader the main character, who is suffering, for he is far away from his Love travelling in the woods in May, and his blasphemy ("Now let me wholly live or die"). He prays to the Ancient Greek gods of love and they come and make him confess (Christian tradition). It is not unusual (a combination of the Christian traditions and pagan gods or a combination of different cultures), but still was unexpected.
In the commentary on the state of the world little was said on Love, but a lot on how people and society in general degrade through times.
Introduction is, on the other hand, more concerned with the notion of Love (which has a bit of Cretien vibes).
To be honest, it is a hard question for me, I have only assumptions: perhaps, the link is in the fact of confession, that, according to the prologue, would not hurt the society (Venus was frowning and disappointed, for she states, many claim they are descent, and not always it is the truth), and perhaps, there is a price to pay for something one may long for.
In reply to Valeriia Kliuieva

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
I agree that the moment of confession presents a fusion of the perspective introduced in the Prologue and that presented in the Introduction: "general morality" (Genius acting as one of the order of priests) and "issues in love" (Genius acting as, specifically, Venus' priest). However, I wouldn't say that "in the commentary on the state of the world little was said on Love". Love seems to be an important concept in the Prologue, too...
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Michaela Válková -
The prologue is a long description of all that went wrong with the world. It says how the world used to be a good place to live – people lived in health, unity, peace, and prosperity. On the other hand, now, the world is full of terrors and people are divided. It is specifically mentioned that even though one man can be wise, twelve men are twelve times wiser. The only entity that could restore the world to its former glory, or at least bring love back, is God.
In the introduction, we meet the narrator who suffers because of love. He comments on love and all the ways in which one may suffer because of it. As Valeriia has mentioned, it was interesting to note the prominent concept of Christian God and have the Greek Gods of Love present as well. In a way, it reminded me of Beowulf in this sense.

I think that both the prologue and the introduction talk of suffering. This suffering will come if something is left unfulfilled – in the case of the prologue, people are full of hate and incapable of coming together which leads to the division and subsequent suffering. In the introduction, the narrator’s love is left unfulfilled.
In reply to Michaela Válková

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
Greek gods make their appearance alongside Christian concepts, including God, more often then we might expect (cf. The Knight's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). My question would be whether you perceive this configuration as a sort of automatism, springing from the grounding of the High Medieval culture in both Christianity and the culture of Classical Antiquity (however diluted/transformed/(mis)appropriated), or whether it is functional, part of a larger scheme governing Gower's text.
In reply to Helena Znojemská

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Danila Gudkov -
If i may intrude upon this conversation, to me it seems that Gower seems to echo Ancient Greece and it's philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. One of his main concerns is the lack of order and stable hierarchy, which he bemoans and he also mentions the idea of everyone being in their place doing their job. Gower also seem to evoke Phaedo, in that men are property of gods and thus must obey them eagerly, only he says this in relation Christ. At the end prologue he essentially calls for Deus ex Machina in hopes of solving the otherwise unsolvable problem. But otherwise it is clearly the nostalgia about the Golden Age and the good old days and I agree with others on that.
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Liana Marie Ellegate -
I agree with many of the points made by both Valeriia and Michaela. The description of the decline of society perfectly captures timeless societal issues - so much so that, without background knowledge or context, one could mistake excerpts from this segment as being about modern society/modern global affairs. I also found the Greek mythological references in the Christian context interesting. Regarding how the societal commentary and dream vision frame fit together, from a reader's standpoint they do so smoothly. I would like to point out a deeper meaning connected to the dream vision frame - that being the connection back to the Biblical significance of dreams (how they reveal information from God to prophets, for example). Also, to comment on Valeriia's note about the capitalization of 'Love' in the line "and bring Love back to us again," I read this as a reference to divine Love (separated from the previous mentions of love (lowercase) which I took to refer to courtly or Earthly love). Thus, the conclusion being that the return of divine Love would be the answer to the problems the author described plaguing the world.
In reply to Liana Marie Ellegate

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
I'm not quite sure whether your commentary shows how the dream vision frame fits with the social commentary - that would, I suppose, need more detailed explanation. However, your remark on the connection between the dream vision frame and biblical dreams is very much to the point, because a large part of the Prologue (which I didn't reproduce, because is not directly relevant to our concern with romance) gives an interpretation of King Nabuchadnezar's prophetic dream of the colossus with a feet of clay, relating it to the preceding account of the general decline of the world. So a sort of a dream (it's not directly specified as such, but the literary tradition links the May setting and the locus amoenus topos with dreams and visions) is juxtaposed with another type of dream. Similarly, there is love (intro) for Love (Prologue).
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Ivana Turusová -
On one hand, I definitely agree with what the girls already mentioned - the speaker clearly comments on the decline of the society (and the point made by Liana is great - that the prologue captures a timeless societal issue. From my own experience, people are always unhappy with "the world right now" and they will say that "in the previous generation people were doing better" etc. - for example). On the other hand, I'm quite sceptic about the description of the "Those olden days" as the speaker calls them. Could any period in history be that peaceful and full of prosperity, without arguments between the cities, with poor people honoring the royalty without a single complaint, not a single act of jealousy regarding lovers? I am no historian but that seems impossible for me. "And they lived happily ever after in peace" is a bedtime story for children. I do not wish to sound pessimistic or rude but people being malicious is a fact that can be applied for any historical period. The only reason I see for this piece of writing is the author's effort to show the reader how rotten the society has become and he needs to compare it to someting (impossibly) pure to really show the evil. And when God enters, I can't help myself but think that it is just a means to turn people back to church as it proposes that when they start to praise God and Christ again, those perfect Olden Days (that, in my opinion are nonsense) would go back.
The introduction seems to develop some ideas from the Prologue, so I think they go together well. The speaker describes his misery in Love and turns to Venus. Could that mean that he suffers because he turns to a Greek Goddes instead of Christian God? That might be an answer to what was proposed in the Prologue - unless you devote fully to Christian God, those Olden perfectt Days where Love was pure will not come back. But on the contrary, in the first part of the Introduction the speaker says this about God:
"He gives his graces undeserved;
Often, from people who have served
Him well, he takes all benefice,
As from a man who plays at dice"
He doesn't hide the fact that God treats pious and sinful people the same. God decides himself who he will make happy or not regardless of who you are, and as Love is put on the same level as God, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do, Love would come or make you suffer no matter the circumstances. So in the end, is there really a reason to pray to God? I am not sure if I understood the text correctly but this is my feeling about both parts.
In reply to Ivana Turusová

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Hana Hájková -

I completely agree with the comment about "the good old times." It is a perfect example of "everything looks better in the retrospective." The author focuses on the bad and sad things that are happening around him right now and under this state of mind he brings his nostalgic distorted memories and sweet nostalgia. 

In reply to Ivana Turusová

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
I'd only call your attention to the fact that the quotation you give concerns love, not God: it's love that gives his graces undeserved etc. But perhaps I didn't quite get your point where you drew an analogy between love and God?
In reply to Helena Znojemská

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Ivana Turusová -
Maybe that was just my impression, I got it from this part: "Against what God by natural/( Law has decreed; among us all/ None knows the salve for such a sore./ Love was, and is, and evermore /Shall be our master where he will,/ In spite of all our mortal skill;" I understood it that he refers back to God, in other words "Love shall be our master where God's will is" and so they are on the same celestial level. I assumed in the verse "He gives his graces undeserved" that "he" is God. But maybe what confused me was the personification of Love as "he".
In reply to Ivana Turusová

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
Got the point. Yes, the Introduction does subordinate Love (indeed personified as "he") to God. Well observed.
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Kateřina Mudrová -
As has been noted above, the poet laments upon the dramatic social (and moral/spiritual) decline compared to the further unspecified era of „the olden days“. I have to agree that this is a sentiment that reappears in every generation; the past times tend to be largely idealized, the new young generation is nowhere as great as when WE were young etc., yet at the same time the description of the social changes in in no way time specific. As far as I can understand, in the Prologue, the poet praises love (i.e. the true, possibly Christian love, the Love with capital L) as the force that holds society together (there is a focus of international relations as well as peace within the state, i.e. between the three estates), so it is apparently a kind of love which translates into obedience and humility. Then he argues, that with the general decline of society, even love became somewhat changed and twisted.
In Book 1, he argues that the problem is a lack of temperance. But further on he starts to speak of love in a romanticized way, as of a great (yet blind) power beyond human control, and then he introduces us into the story of the man troubled by unrequited love. I am not quite sure how to understand this transition from a soberly didactic, scorning introduction to a dreamy story of a love-sick man. The combination, or rather contrast between the sober Christian love praised in the introduction and the excited, infatuated talk to the Greek deities does not make the message much clearer.The most likely explanation is that the tale of the lover is a cautionary one (the lover says he has sinned against love, he confesses to Venus and in certain way recieves an absolution. In this sense, the Venus persona could possibly be considered a personification of the ideal love presented in the prologue, rather than the Greek goddess (so in this sense she is not "problematic" within the discourse of Christian literature).
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Dominika Kecsöová -
I shall reply to this question with two of my own:

I wonder how well Gower´s ideal love would fit into the idea of Christian love: something that is more caritas than passion? The prologue and the dream vision seem a curious combination of the two (curious to me as a reader nowadays, I should say): Gower (unlike Jean de Meung) is completely serious in his description of Genius as Venus´ priest/confessor.

I wonder where exactly this dream-vision trope of “I went into a forest and found myself elsewhere” started, since it is found in romances, in Roman de la Rose, in Gower and in Dante (and these are actually interconnected, and Gower takes a lot from Roman de la Rose, but still, where did it start?).

I would also like to add something I thought about during our previous lesson and now it occurred to me again:
It is understandable that Gower chooses for his moral a comparison between a lawful and illicit love, but another thing that all the versions ignore is that Apollonius, after he married, forgot about the fisherman (and consequently lost both his wife and then his daughter). This possible moral, which would fit within the pagan and Christian framework (simply “repay this kindness that you received”) is completely left out and despite the text being really narratively inconsistent, I find this the funniest thing. The narrative itself, not only Apollonius, forgets about the fisherman until the very end.
In reply to Dominika Kecsöová

Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Helena Znojemská -
Difficult questions to answer, but good points for debate.
I'm not quite sure with respect to the seriousness of the concept of Genius' double role: "first I'm a PRIEST and so I'll guide you through the seven deadly sins with all the subbranches etc.; second I'm VENUS' priest and so I'll tell you how those sins manifest themselves in matters of love." It sounds a bit like a plot device, an exegetical mechanism introduced as such, laid bare as it were: it's where sentence definitely overrules solace, if you see what I mean - it seems totally unconvincing on one plane of the story, a mere pretext.
As for the trope, I can't say, because it's difficult to determine what IS the start - i.e., how many of the components that finally meet in the trope have to be there for us to say, this is it. But I know that an analogical situation (green meadow, shade of trees, murmuring streams, warbling birds/cicadas) forms a background for Socrates' inspired third speech in Phaedrus (the vision of Right Love). So I'd say it goes way back. I suppose Curtius would be the author to consult on this. Btw, thanks for bringing up Roman de la Rose. It's definitely a point of departure for all the Late Medieval authors.
Finally, the fisherman. It's curious, isn't it? On the one hand, the fisherman rewarded - as you say - comes almost as an afterthought ("okay, let's tie all the loose ends now - aah, the fisherman, yes, that has to be settled before we end"); on the other, it may almost seem as if the narrative deliberately steered clear of the fisherman, only to bring him back at the very end - to what purpose? To test whether the readers have kept this required proof of Apollonius' moral integrity in mind? I tend to see him as a plot device, the final seal on Apollonius' goodness, precisely because the whole incident is totally detached from any concept of verisimilitude ("causes not reasons"). But I'd love to hear more about the narrative inconsistencies...
 
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Re: Confessio Amantis - the framework

by Adéla Zeimannová -
As has been pointed out the Prologue heavily focuses on the degenerating society, he criticizes the decline of honor, peace, love and warns against wrath, greed, sloth etc. The prologue seems to set up a frame for the whole work, serving as a moralizing text.
I agree with what has already been said, the combination of the two parts certainly seems an interesting choice. They seem to follow each other thematically, but are very different in tone and method. The prologue speaks directly to the reader, while the introduction is formed by the dialogue of the lover and the priest. Much of the introduction seems like an allegory, where the “love-struck” lover converses with Venus and the priest, Genius. The voice of authority seems to change, in the prologue, Gower seems to be moralizing and critical, while in the introduction we get a different speaker, Genius, who seems to be instructing the lover. These changes kind of make it seem like there are two prologues or introductions. The fact that the prologue does not reveal anything about the lover, or the priest etc., thus, there being a little to no relevance of the prologue to the following lover’s confession seems also as very interesting.