Gower’s Confessio Amantis IV, 1963-2013: The Education of Achilles
Zambreno, Mary Frances
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 3 (1986)
John Gower’s Confessio Amantis is a poem of multiple sources. The story of the education of Achilles in Book IV (lines 1963-2013) is from Statius’ Achilleid, but Gower also uses Benoit de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie (which does not describe the education) for information about Achilles. Gower mentions Achilles once each in Books II, III, and VII of the Confessio and twice in Book VIII; he mentions Achilles four times in Book IV and twice in Book V. The story of the education of Achilles is one of growth into maturity, which I believe is a major theme of the Confessio. Achilles seems to represent an ideal to both Genius and Amans, albeit in different terms. Genius prefers Statius’ Achilles, while Amans seems to wish to emulate Benoit’s. In his use of the Achilles material, Gower intertwines his sources, playing one against the other in a way which may tell us something about the underlying structure of the Confessio as a whole and about Books IV and V in particular. I believe that Statius’ Achilles represents the heroic ideal of the Confessio, while Benoit’s represents romance used as the poetry of accommodation to the realities of the world which we all inhabit. Romance, as Gower uses it in the Confessio, recognizes inevitable human and worldly imperfections more generously than does Gower’s version of the classical ideal. My first question is, what does the story of the education of Achilles have to do with the other Achilles material in the Confessio, particularly with that in Books IV and V? My second: what use is Gower making of Statius here, and how does that relate to his use of Benoit? By considering these questions I hope to disentangle at least one of the thematic threads of Gower’s long narrative as well as shed same light on his narrative technique.