Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alan of Lille's 'Anticlaudianus' and John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alan of Lille's 'Anticlaudianus' and John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'

Article excerpt

James Simpson, Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alan of Lille's 'Anticlaudianus' and John Gower's `Confessio Amantis', Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature z5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). xii + 321 pp. ISBN 0-521--4718I-8. L37.50; $59.95.

This book is hugely impressive: rich in content (beyond adequate summary here), wide in learning, lucid and forceful in argument. The Anticlaudianus and Confessio Amantis are brilliantly re-read; they are Bildungsromane portraying, and causing the reader to undergo, different courses of education according to their different humanist perspectives. Both works are optimistic in their view that the education of the soul is to be conducted through an engagement with the world, through scientific knowledge, and in their conviction that such education is to issue in virtuous practical action in the political realm; but whilst Plato and Virgil are the presiding spirits of Alan's humanism, which has a concept of the self centred in the intellect and is politically absolutist, Gower looks rather to Ovid and Aristotle and presents a self to which the imagination, mediating between body and soul, is central; Gower's politics is appropriately constitutionalist.

The different aspects of what James Simpson has to say are densely coherent; and coherence is what he wants to see in the works he treats and in the models of human existence and activity which they present. The apparent incoherence of each of the works is its author's invitation to the reader to look for resolution and thus arrive both at true interpretation and selfknowledge. For the Anticlaudianus, the search for coherence involves a backto-front, 'preposterous', reading of the poem, with the New Man section `really' preceding the Fronesis action, and an understanding of the New Man and Fronesis as projections of a single soul receiving an education proceeding in due order through practical to theoretical sciences, with natural virtues being informed by grace. …

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