Gower and Science at ICMS 2014

Extending well beyond the early work of George G. Fox in his study, The Mediaeval Sciences in the Work of John Gower, this session investigated motion and its relation to invention in the Confessio amantis (Steele Nowlin) as well as the effects of encyclopedic knowledge and ways of reading (Tamara O’Callaghan).  In the former, Nowlin considered the “relationship between medieval ideas of physical motion and the way in which the Confessio Amantis metaphorically describes the process of its own invention.” He looked to the act of rejuvenating “a world of inherited motion, of old movements still playing out. . . . Gower’s project is in part an effort to generate new movements, productive motions that can, at least potentially, suggest how cultural rejuvenation might work on a larger scale.” Recasting Medea in more positive terms, remedying her reputation as a ‘schizophrenic witch,’ Nowlin argued that Medea’s tale generates a “sense of affect—that is, the sensation of the potential for new movement—by aligning representations of motion and invention. Through Medea’s technically precise rituals—which, though magical, are grounded in the physical world and the physics of motion—Gower externalizes and thematizes the affective movement that empowers the tale’s sense of narrative progression.” The presentation prompted a protracted discussion with audience members, one of whom was a mathematician interested in the history of science (and Tolkien).

Tamara O’Callaghan then turned to the Confessio, which she identified as an encyclopedic compilation to be read in a number of ways and not always in a linear order. She suggested that by reading Book VII first (or at the very least including it with the rest of the CA), we get a better sense of the scientific universe, “the landscape of a field of jewels, stars, and herbs” in which Gower moved with great facility. Illustrations from MS Pierpont Morgan 126 showed in vivid color and detail the luminous environment of the poem and the expansive poetic imagination. Late medieval encyclopedias function as important sources often overlooked in favor of an emphasis on the Confessio‘s love trope. Clearly there’s a universe of learning in Gower’s work that begs to be explored anew. O’Callaghan has provided an intriguing map of rediscovery. Medieval-Science-2


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