Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and His Followers

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and His Followers

Article excerpt

Edward Wheatley, Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and his Followers (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000). ix + 277 pp. ISBN 0-8130-- 1745-9. $55.00.

According to the structure of the classical fable the story should come first, preceding the moral or 'truth'. In his study of the genre or, as he prefers, the discourse of fable, Edward Wheatley reverses this pattern, attempting instead to establish the truth about fable before turning to examine the stories of his chosen authors: Chaucer, Lydgate, and Henryson. His thesis is essentially that these three very different poets shared a common experience as former students of curricular fable, and that their classroom instruction in the literary form, its history, and the most common hermeneutic practices associated with it was an important influence on the fable narratives they later produced.

In the first half of the book Wheatley examines the scholastic fable tradition in detail. His focus is on the so-called elegiac Romulus collection of sixty verse fables which was the most popular Latin fable collection in Europe from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. His initial task is to achieve a definition of fable which will not be unduly restrictive, and to do so he surveys the previous responses of modern commentators to the genre and the shadowy author associated with it, the father-figure of Aesop. He then gives an overview of those literary critical texts (by both classical auctores and their medieval successors) which were most influential in determining fable's medieval reception and use. Finally he embarks upon an examination of the commentary tradition and pedagogic practices associated with fable in the later Middle Ages. This discussion forms the core of the book, and Wheatley's approach to it, which is grounded in the study of manuscripts and incurables, is one of the book's strengths. …

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